#1 Indiana Pacers vs. #8 Atlanta Hawks
Season Series (2-2)
For most the of the NBA season it was almost a certainty that the Pacers and Heat would meet in the Eastern Confernce Finals, but for the past month Indiana has been trying to stop the bleeding. In the playoffs it comes down to match-ups and this one will give the Pacers some issues. Roy Hibbert hasn’t required much defending as of late. The All-Star is in the worst slump of his career, shooting just 29.3 percent over his last 13 games. In four games against the Hawks this season, he averaged season lows of 21.7 minutes, five points and 28.1 percent shooting. Atlanta beat Indiana twice this season, including their most recent meeting, on April 6, when the Hawks held the Pacers to a franchise-low 23 points in the first half. I’m going to give Indiana the benefit of the doubt and say they turn it up now that its the playoffs. Will be a better series then most would have thought three months ago.
Prediction: Pacers 4 Hawks 2
#4 Chicago Bulls vs. #5 Washington Wizards
Season Series (Washington 2-1)
This should be an interesting series, the Bulls defense is good enough to win against any team. The question without Derrick Rose is can they score enough points? The Bulls went 23-2 this season when scoring at least 100 points, something they did six times in their last 10 games. D.J. Augustin gave the Bulls a great spark on the offensive end. Joakim Noah averaged career highs in points (12.6), rebounds (11.3) and assists (5.4). As for the Wizards they are lead by star point guard John Wall who is playing in his first playoffs. Guys like Marcin Gortat, Andre Miller, Al Harrington and Drew Gooden will give the Wiazrds some much needed veteran leadership. The Bulls experience and ability to execute gives them a slight edge though.
Predection: Bulls 4 Wizards 2
#3 Toronto Raptors vs. #6 Brooklyn Nets
Season Series (2-2)
Since trading Rudy Gay to the Kings in December, the Raptors are 41-22, the best record in the Eastern Conference over that span. The Nets have posted the second-best winning percentage in the East since Jan. 1 (.667, 34-17) after starting the season (10-21). This is a tough series to pick because Toronto’s stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan pose all kinds of problems for opponents, while Brooklyn has NBA Finals pedigree. Execution will be key in this series, both teams met four times, and while each took two games, three of the four were decided by four points or fewer.
Prediction: Brooklyn 4 Toronto 3
#2 Miami Heat vs. #7 Charlotte Bobcats
Season Series (Miami 4-0)
Michael Jordan has finally has the Bobcats looking like an actual playoff team. The Bobcats are hot heading into the playoffs, closing out the regular season with a 7-1 record. Their defense, orchestrated by first-year coach Steve Clifford, has been one of the best in the league all season, ranking in the top five in points allowed and efficiency. However, they are playing the Miami Heat. The Heat are looking to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth straigh season and even with Dwayne Wade in and out of the lineup, they are just too talented to lose in the first round. Miami is 15-0 against Charlotte since James and Chris Bosh came to South Beach in the summer of 2010. Charlotte is lead by Al Jefferson who is averaging 26 points and 13 rebounds, the guy is a star and has been the man reason for the Bobcats turn around.
Prediction: Miami 4 Charlotte 1
#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #8 Dallas Mavericks
Season Series (San Antonio 4-0)
This could be the last time we see Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki play against each other in the playoffs. Game 6 of last years NBA Finals is still in the back of the Spurs mind and they are on a mission. Dallas has done a great job of making it to the playoffs by playing well down the stretch but San Antonio will just be too much on both ends of the floor. I want to pick the Spurs in four games but out of respect for Nowitzki I will give them one game.
Prediction: San Antonio 4 Dallas 1
#4 Houston Rockets vs. #5 Portland Trail Blazers
Season Series (Houston 4-3)
This was a tough one to pick for me, it will go seven games for sure. Both teams won 54 games, and their point differentials are separated by a smaller margin (Houston edges Portland +4.7 to +4) than those of the other seven series. Rockets center Dwight Howard and guard James Harden will be playing in the first of many playoff games together. Both stars have a lot to prove, considring Howards departure from Orlando and Los Angeles and Harden who was a no show a couple years back in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. The Blazers are lead by LaMarcus Aldridge and young stud Damian Lillard. This series will come down to role players, watch out for Chandler Parsons to have a big first round.
Prediction: Houston 4 Portland 3
#3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #6 Golden State Warriors
Season Series (Los Angeles 4-3)
This will be the most exciting series of the first round, not just because of the offense but the pure dislike each team has for one another. It is almost unfair to know that one of these two teams wont make it to the second round. Chris Paul and Steph Curry will be a chess match, Paul has the veteran edge but Currys ability to hit shots from anywhere on the court will give the Clippers big issues. The health of JJ Redick will be key for Los Angeles if they want to make an NBA Finals run and him playing in a fast-paced series like this could keep him getting back to 100%. Andre Iguodala for the most part has had a down season and if Golden State has any chance to win this series without Andrew Bogut (due to injury) he will have to step up. The Clippers are just too deep and the emergence of Blake Griffin has made the Clippers a title contender.
Prediction: Los Angeles 4 Golden State 2
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #7 Memphis Grizzles
Last seaosn the Grizzles ended the title hopes for the Thunder, mostly in part to the injury of Russell Westbrook who is now healthy and on a mission. Since center Marc Gasol came back in January from a knee injury that sidelined him for seven weeks, Memphis is 33-13, which is a game better than OKC’s record over the same span. Gasol along with Zach Randolph will give Memphis a fighting chance, pounding the ball inside and playing physical. Kevin Durant is a lock to win his first MVP and has won his fourth scoring title while shooting 50% from the field, 39.1% from three and 87% from the foul line. Tony Allen will have his hands full, the Grizzles give the Thunder all they can handle but it wont be enough.
Prediction: Oklahoma City 4 Memphis 3